POPE FRANCIS has given all priests the authority to absolve the mortal sin of abortion during the coming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy of the Catholic Church.

In a letter last Sept. 1, Pope Francis said forgiveness must be granted to those who repent with a sincere heart through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, including those who had procured abortion.

“For this reason… I have decided, not withstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope urged priests to contribute in the enlightenment of women who had procured abortion by helping them realize the gravity of their sin and guiding them towards conversion.

“May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with His presence,” the Pope said.

This is not the first time for a pope to express sympathies to those who had procured abortion. In the encyclical Evangelium Vitae released in 1995, Pope St. John Paul II said that through Sacrament of Reconciliation, a person who had procured abortion would “also be able to ask forgiveness from” her child.

During the World Youth Day celebrations in 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI let confessors absolve the sin of abortion among young women.

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Jubilee or Holy Years, which usually take place every 25 years, are some of the Church’s most important events, where grave sins are pardoned under certain conditions. The last Holy Year took place in 2000, when the Church marked two millennia of Christianity.

The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin on Dec. 8 and will end on Nov. 20 next year.

Understanding absolution for abortion

Fr. Jose Maria Tinoko, O.P., dean of the Faculty of Canon Law, said abortion is a reserved sin that can only be absolved by the local ordinary, meaning the bishop or his vicar general.

“Usually, the one who can absolve is the local ordinary or the mendicant priest … However, during the Holy Year, the priest can absolve the sin and remove the censura (censures) at the same time,” Fr. Tinoko said.

According to Church law, a person who procures a complete abortion incurs latae sententiae excommunication or automatic excommunication.

Tinoko said Christians should always uphold importance of human life. “Parents should always talk to their children since they don’t usually open up to their parents. Here in the Church, we serve as an adjunct, and we are always here to teach these women the dangers of abortion,” he added.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, said the laity should be grateful to the Lord’s unending mercy, and should themselves be merciful. “Pahalagahan natin ‘yung mercy ng Diyos sa atin, na hindi naman tayo karapat-dapat, na makasalanan tayo at tayo ay pinatatawad,” he said.

Abortion still a ‘grave offense’

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In a pastoral letter titled “Understanding Pope Francis’ gesture rightly,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said abortion remains a grave offense and absolution for abortion, while making God’s mercy more visible, does not make the sin less grievous.

CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas urged Catholics to take time to understand Pope Francis and not believe misleading reports that the Church stance on abortion had been relaxed.

“Terminating the life of an unborn child should not be among a woman’s options because her right to privacy and to make decisions about herself do not extend to the life in her womb over which she enjoys no dominion at all,” Villegas said.

Villegas said that Catholics should see the Pope’s gesture as an opportunity to approach God’s mercy.

“The proper, Catholic response to the Holy Father’s gesture is for all of us, sinners, to approach the mercy of God that constantly reaches out to us, that seeks out the lost,” Villegas said. Krystel Nicole A. Sevilla and Lea Mat P. Vicencio

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